Conscious Leaders Are Comfortable with Discomfort. Are You?

Published on: February 23, 2015

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You are in a board meeting and tension begins to arise. The topic is important and needs to be discussed; yet, there is palpable discomfort in the room. You breathe and see the possibility awaiting the group. Will you, and they, have the courage to stay present for what is likely to be a difficult conversation, staying with the discomfort long enough to allow wisdom to arise?

Challenges, tension and conflict are a normal part of life. But staying present to the discomfort that arises on occasion, without making the experience, situation or person “against” us can be difficult. Most people are unskilled in this art, though it is critical to our spiritual journey. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be developed.

Honing this skill means recognizing that discomfort can be an ally revealing what needs healing. Yet, as a collective society, we are conditioned to desire comfort. We often use our spiritual gifts to bring forth increasing comfort, and we sometimes see discomfort as a sign of spiritual failure. But is it possible that pursuing comfort may come at the expense of our own evolution? Are we just spiritually bypassing what could be a rich opportunity for growth?

Try noticing how we actively avoid discomfort. Have you seen creative tension arise in a meeting and watched someone jump up and ask for prayer? Why? Often, it is because we want the discomfort to stop and we use what is at hand—prayer. Rather, we can choose in the moment to allow the tension to be our teacher revealing previously unseen issues. Prayer, HeartMath®, and other centering techniques are useful for calming ourselves, but if we allow the call for prayer to quell the creative energy, it unintentionally silences voices that need to be heard. We risk stalling our forward progress.

There is a big difference between tolerating our own discomfort and tolerating dysfunction. In fact, we are sometimes better at tolerating dysfunction (allowing it to go unaddressed) than tolerating the discomfort we would feel setting healthy boundaries.

Unless we are talking about true physical danger (such as abuse and violence), much of what puts us into protective or comfort-seeking mode is “echo anxiety,” or leftover, unconscious patterns of fear and hurt from our imperfect upbringing. We want others to do it right and situations to turn out comfortably so we can feel safe and secure. Yet the only real safe place is in the ability to be present to new learning—regardless of the feeling and appearance of discomfort.

Tolerating discomfort may seem counter-intuitive. Isn’t New Thought all about positivity and manifesting the good life? Yet, many if not all spiritual teachers at some point moved through discomfort into their awakening. If we are willing to look deeper, we can see the shadow side of striving to create ever-increasing levels of comfort. Avoiding discomfort means it can’t become a force for good; why not embrace the uncomfortable teacher and awaken to the wisdom and healing it offers?

With practice, we can master a two-step process for learning from discomfort. First we must breathe into and be open to the discomfort, saying to ourselves: “I notice I am feeling some discomfort.” Second, with this awareness we make the conscious choice to be present to the discomfort. Breathe, notice, and wait while remaining open to what emerges as a teaching/learning.

Living out of nervous system habits, such as “I feel uncomfortable and it shouldn’t be like this,” and then jumping to do something about it, only reinforces the neural architecture of our false beliefs. If we don’t tolerate our own or others’ discomfort well, we can fall into the unconscious habit of wanting, even needing, outer circumstances and people to change so that we can feel okay again. Being stuck in this way of thinking robs us of our power.

Are you willing to sit with your shadow parts as well as the Light? Within us is a shadow-self, our unconscious beliefs that have become entrenched neural wiring and that often drive us and our choices. Because we are unaware, our shadow often drives us places we don’t really want to go.

Looking out into the world we see how people, families, organizations, and even nations get blind-sided by shadow drivers going every which way. But are we willing to see the ways that we let our own shadow drive us around? If you feel ready to open to deep growth and wake up to your next level of expression, try sitting in the midst of discomfort (creative tension) and observe what is arising in you. You’ll be deeply blessed by the teaching that appears.

Toni G. Boehm
Peace and Transitional Ministry Support Consultant at Unity Worldwide Ministries
Rev Toni G Boehm, PhD, is Ministry Skills & Transition Ministry Support Coordinator for UWM. She has supported nearly 300 Unity boards and ministries in leadership skill development. She is the 2017 recipient of the Charles Fillmore Award for visionary leadership.
Rima Bonario
Peace and Transitional Ministry Support Consultant at The Q Effect
Rima Bonario, ThD, is an author, workshop leader, soul coach and SEE instructor. She co-created The Q Process and The Art & Practice of Living with Nothing and No One Against You. Dr Bonario holds a doctorate in Transformational Psychology and a master’s in Communications and Leadership.

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  • Marianne Mahala Connally

    This is a very important topic and a great article. With all the positive focus in Unity – we need to talk more about the ability to be uncomfortable through a growth process. Setting healthy boundaries is also a very KEY issue for most of us in churches where “no-one ever wants to say NO” to anyone.

  • Kristen Preud’homme

    Healthy boundaries and your coment Mahala on our “need to talk more about the ability to be uncomfortable through a growth process” are good points. I’m learning (as I become more aware) to stay conscious of what I’m feeling and honoring that, while also choosing not to run with the story those emotions want to create. As I do this, I find myself triggered less often and more able to stay centered and present when with another who is working through their emotions.

  • Rev. Bill Worth

    Healthy boundaries need to start with the interview between a prospective minister and a church seeking a minister. Ministers and ministries need to make it clear what duties are expected and what are not. For example, a minister might not have the gift of pastoral care, so s/he needs to make it clear in the interview that s/he will rely on a church’s chaplains to help in that area. If there are no chaplains, that could be a “red flag” for that minister in that ministry. Another example: if a ministry is seeking a minister who has a strong background in business and finance, it needs to make sure that is listed as an expectation in the packet churches fill out in the process of seeking a minister. A minister who does not have that background probably should not be interviewing with that church. As a long-time Judicatory Rep in two regions, I have seen lots of “misfits” between ministers and ministries that result in discomfort and even dysfunction down the road. Much of this could be reduced or even eliminated by making sure a ministry and a prospective minister are a good fit right from the start.